GREENVILLE — Heroin is known as a powerful and illegal street drug and opiate, derived from morphine.
Heroin is cheap, and that’s one reason people get hooked. One “high” ranges from $5 to $20 dollars, but often times users realize the higher cost of the habit, after it is too late.
“The addiction is stronger than the fear of death,” Darke County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker said.
Statistics are proving that. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states with statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates, from 2014 to 2015, included Ohio, which went up 21.5 percent. Additionally, opioids—prescription and illicit—are the main driver of drug overdose deaths. The CDC said opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015, and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999.
The Darke County numbers show, in 2016, there were 17 deaths ruled “accidental” between the ages of 22-58, 13 of which were male.
In addition to its economy, other factors contributing to heroin use are gateway drugs. A strong correlation exists between a misuse of prescription opiods and starting heroin abuse, especially among young people, according to the CDC. More than nine in 10 people who used heroin also used at least one other drug, the CDC said, which goes back to economics. According to Chief Deputy Whittaker, heroin on the street is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription drugs. It is also easier to get.
“People that have become addicted to prescription pain medication, face more stringent processes and controls to obtain the medication therefore turning to heroin,” Chief Deputy Whittaker said.
Therein lies a bigger more dangerous problem. The quality of the drug is not a consideration for many addicts. Since heroin has no medical use, it is only available through illicit black markets, therefore, nobody knows what they will get in a substance marketed as heroin. According to the John Hopkins University, heroin can be anywhere between 3 and 99 percent pure, making the effects of any batch highly unpredictable.
Recently, reports of heroin being cut with fentanyl are alarming health experts across the nation. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid considered to be 30-50 times more potent than heroin. The numbers in Darke County, according to the county Coroner’s Office show heroin tainted with or cut with fentanyl has been increasing since 2013. Other mixes have have been showing up, such as methadone, cocaine, carfentanil and others.
“Synthetic forms of heroin, like fentanyl, are many times more powerful than heroin and have made the drugs for sale on our streets deadlier and more addictive than ever,” U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said in his February 1 statement regarding a New Report on a fentanyl influx from China. “This new report confirms that China is the global source of fentanyl and that Chinese exporters use various methods to covertly ship drugs into the United States, including through the mail.”
Unfortunately, safety is not a consideration when one is physically and psychologically addicted to a drug. It seems the more important factors for those addicted include the feeling of the high and its lasting potential. These can bring in some unreliable measures.
“In the past two years, we have seen what we believe was the intent to purchase and use heroin, which in 2016, may have changed to knowingly obtaining fentanyl only, which is 40-50 times more potent,” the county Coroner’s Office stated.
While heroin may be a bargain, it and other drugs cost a fortune in related costs. Abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs costs the United States more than $700 billion, annually, in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In Darke County much cost goes into various departments from unclaimed bodies at the morgue to strains on law enforcement, emergency and hospital staff. The courts are full of cases that stem from drugs, according to Common Pleas Court Judge Jonathan Hein.
“A high majority of theft cases are motivated by drug-seeking persons,” he said. “Also, most burglary cases are motivated by drug-seeking persons. I suspect that 80 percent, or more, of defendants getting a PSI [pre-sentence investigation] report have a noticeable drug problem [though not always heroin/opiates].”
Chief Deputy Whittaker said that every division of the Sheriff’s Office, including: patrol, the county jail and 911 communications are impacted by the drug problem. He said the departments receive drug overdose calls almost every day. The calls coming into 911 relating to drugs, include unconscious unresponsive people, to suspected impaired drivers swerving all over the roadway.
In 2016, the department received 93 calls for possible overdose, in January, 2017, they had 31 overdose calls – almost a third of the number they had the entire year of 2016, according to Whittaker. The patrol deputies respond to these calls and assist in securing the scene, while Emergency Medical Services (EMS) treat the victims.
“Darke County Sheriff’s Deputies have administered Narcan, an opiate anecdote that can reverse the effects of an overdose of heroin or some types of painkillers, at least twice so far this year, before EMS arrival on scene,” Whittaker said.
While heroin is a predominant drug problem, Chief Deputy Whittaker also warned about other drugs the department sees. Methamphetamine is becoming very prevalent again, he said.
“It appears there has been no disruption in the supply of heroin,” he said. “There is little consequence to dealing drugs at the felony five and four level which makes up most of the drug dealers in Darke County.”
EDS NOTE: This is the first story in the series titled “Fatal Addiction” that will address the drug problem and effects on residents and resources in Darke County.